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Do classroom spaces influence the use of digital technologies?

Posted on 2 February 2018

How different classroom spaces impact student and teacher perceptions of the use and effectiveness of 1-to-1 technology? (Originally published on the ILETC website)
Schools, of all types and persuasions, are now running either ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) or school managed 1-to-1 programmes. The mindset that drives the considerable financial investment in parachuting thousands of devices into ‘broken’ industrial-era schools is that this integration will somehow ‘fix’ the status quo and better prepare ‘digital natives’ for their future lives in the ‘digital knowledge economy’ (Selwyn, 2015).  Given the enthusiasm, or rhetoric, about this transformative potential, a considerable investigation has taken place into the macro (infrastructure, resourcing and top-down policies) and micro (teacher background, beliefs, characteristics, and confidence) factors that affect the diffusion of technology. Besides the quantifiable issues around access, resourcing and technical support (Bingimlas, 2009), the classroom teacher is often identified as a key mediating factor (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). Hence, professional development activities tend to focus on equipping teachers with those digital literacies and skills that are thought to enhance their use of technology. However, the likes of Cuban (2003) and Selwyn (2010) suggest that, despite considerable human, financial and time investment thus far, the use of digital technology in education has yet to be leveraged to achieve to its purported potential.
Of all the factors that contribute to the use of technology, the constant role of the physical classroom layout, in which the diffusion takes place, has rarely received a mention (Arbelaiz and Gorospe, 2009). To better understand the potential impact of the physical learning environment, a quasi-experimental approach facilitated by a single subject research design (SSRD) evaluated how different physical classroom layouts influenced the educational uses of technology in a secondary school context. The study compared student perceptions of the effectiveness and use of their Tablet PC device in a traditional classroom layout and a retrofitted Innovative Learning Environment (ILE). These layouts were chosen to reflect those spaces that are purported to either hinder (traditional classroom) or facilitate (ILE) the desired use of digital technologies by teachers and students. However, there is scant evidence in the literature to evaluate these claims.
Building upon earlier evaluations (see Byers & Imms, 2014, 2016)this study followed 385 students and 21 teachers from 22 classes across Years 7 to 9 divided into intervention and control (remained in a traditional classroom) groups. Over the period of a school year, results from quantitative analyses (RM-ANOVA) of a student repeated measures survey indicated that different spatial configurations had a measurable effect on how students’ perceived the effectiveness of digital technology, with improvements linked to ILE. However, deeper exploration through post-hoc effect size and visual analysis and examination of teacher voice suggested that the change in learning space by itself not be the sole cause of these changes.
It was clear that the change in space supported those teachers who are able and willing to integrate the affordances of technology into their practice. This concept of awareness and understanding to harness the affordances of the physical learning environment for pedagogical gain is encapsulated in the notion of environmental competency coined by Lackney (2008). This study highlighted how the environment competency of individual teachers impacted their ability to align the affordances of space and technology. Statistically significant improvements to students’ perception of the effectiveness of their device in a retrofitted ILE, was shaped by those teachers who articulated a shift in their use beyond merely replicating existing approaches to the augmentation of more responsive pedagogies. This trend was reinforced when comparisons were made against the control classes who remained in the classroom with a traditional layout. In these more conventional spaces, with a front of room orientation to the ‘fireplace’ supported by rigid seating arrangements, this sample suggested that the use of technology appeared to be restricted primarily to a content delivery tool. In this layout, teachers readily identified that layout curtailed their use of technology as a direct substitute to previous practices, with the limited scope of augmentation or modification.    
The findings of this study provide further evidence that physical classroom layouts can act as a barrier to, or a conduit for leveraging the potential of digital technologies with the aim of making them more effective pedagogically. 
This article that is the subject of this post ‘Empirical evaluation of different classroom spaces on students' perceptions of the use and effectiveness of 1-to-1 technology’ can be accessed at the Wiley Online Library here.


Reference List

Arbelaiz, A. M., & Gorospe, J. M. C. (2009). Can the grammar of schooling be changed? Computers & Education, 53(1), 51-56. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.12.016

Bingimlas, K. A. (2009). Barriers to the successful integration of ICT in teaching and learning environments: A review of the literature. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, 5(3), 235-245.

Byers, T., & Imms, W. (2014). Making the space for space: The effect of the classroom layout on teacher and student usage and perception of one-to-one technology. Paper presented at the 26th Australian Computers in Education Conference, Adelaide.

Byers, T., & Imms, W. (2016). Evaluating the change in space in a technology-enabled primary years setting. In K. Fisher (Ed.), The translation design of schools: An evidence based approach to aligning pedagogy and learning environment design (pp. 215-236). The Netherlands: Sense.

Cuban, L. (2003). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255-284. doi:10.1080/15391523.2010.10782551

Lackney, J. A. (2008). Teacher environmental competence in elementary school environments. Children, Youth and Environments, 18(2), 133-159.

Selwyn, N. (2010). Schools and schooling in the digital age: A critical analysis. New York: Routledge.

Selwyn, N. (2015). Minding our language: why education and technology is full of bullshit ... and what might be done above it. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(3), 437-443. 

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